What is a virtual event?
A virtual event is an online event where participants interact in a virtual environment rather than meeting in person. Virtual events are generally multi-session online gatherings that often include webinars and webcasts. They are highly interactive, and designed to create an environment that is as close to that of their physical counterparts as possible.
Popular applications of virtual events include trade shows, job fairs, conferences, sales meetings, college open days, and company-wide gatherings. While they have existed for quite some time, virtual events have gained significant popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way for brands to present their information digitally either to internal teams or to the general public. They are often led by a range of key stakeholders, including associations, professional meeting organizers, company executives, marketing managers, product managers, human resources, and more.
Types of virtual events
Webinars are engaging because they encourage participants from all over the world to virtually join in and listen to one or more speakers deliver the material. Companies can choose to either charge participants to join webinars offer the content for free. Webinars usually use video conferencing resources that allow for Q&A, the ability to show live or pre-recorded video, and the ability to make the event available after the fact as on-demand.
2) Virtual conferences
Much like physical conferences, virtual conferences are developed around an agenda that includes keynote speakers, sessions, breakouts, and more. They can consist of multi-session content and can involve community engagement tools. While they are not as effective in capturing leads and networking as an in-person event, virtual conferences allow attendees to view important keynotes in real-time, build their agenda from relevant, on-demand content, and interact with other attendees.
3) Internal hybrid events
For organizations scattered across countries, internal hybrid events can be used to share a message with an entire company when employees are not in the same place. Since travel restrictions have made it difficult for people to travel and travel is quite costly, internal hybrid events work well.
4) External hybrid events
Along the same lines, external hybrid events are those that are held outside an organization. They are usually user conferences or industry conferences and require a higher level of video production so that virtual attendees are provided with a similar quality of content as in-person attendees. These events allow attendees who cannot travel to an event to participate and learn.
Other types of virtual events can include how-to’s, tutorials and classes, training and course, behind-the-scenes tours, interviews, and performances.
Importance of Virtual Events
As with in-person events, virtual events are held to deliver a company’s message, thus driving leads and revenue, driving adoption, and building brand loyalty for life. Companies, as well as event planners, have been choosing between in-person, virtual, and hybrid events for many years because they clearly understand that each type of event has its own set of pros and cons. But, some reasons to host a virtual event include its accessibility, and cost-effectiveness. Additionally, sometimes you just have no other option. With the current pandemic, the latter is the case for many brands.
The cost-effectiveness of virtual events allows smaller companies with restricted budgets to host a successful event. Likewise, it allows individuals who can’t afford to attend a live event such as a professional conference to attend the event at ease and contribute their unique perspectives. The company hosting the event saves the money they would spend on conference space, on-hand staff, catering, security, and more.
As mentioned before, virtual events also allow people from around the globe to interact with other attendees without having to spend an insane amount of money on flights and accommodation. Additionally, they also help companies attract high-demand speakers who may not have the time to commit to a physical conference but are happy to share industry insights through a quick video call or pre-recorded presentation.
Finally, last but not least, a virtual event enables companies to create content which they can continue to share and use as a lead general tool for an extended time period even after the initial launch of a product or service. Business leaders have prioritized delivering value in a virtual format because it has helped them harness creativity and innovation, which keeps them relevant to their industry and above their competitors.
Elements of a Virtual Event
A virtual event is usually built around content, attendee engagement, and data. While there is no physical location, virtual events require many of the same elements as any other event. The only difference is that video production quality and connectivity will become necessary. Likewise, it’s important to pay attention to the platform that the company chooses to use to compile their content. Some elements the platform needs to contain for a successful virtual event include an event website, event registration, live presentation content, live audio-video, Q&A, live polling, note-taking slides, recorded content, interactive video conferencing, and feedback surveys.
Tools for Creating a Successful Virtual Event
Virtual events rely heavily on technology, and attendance to them is not possible without the use of computers and mobile devices. However, there is more to virtual event technology than video conferencing tools. All virtual events benefit from using an event technology platform that can help the company promote, execute and manage its event. As mentioned, event websites are an essential piece of event tech when companies are trying to execute their conference or other virtual event. Other important features include registration, email, an online event guide, mobile event apps, event feedback, and integrations.
A company’s event website is used for event promotion, and it is the key promotion tool to interest potential attendees and encourage them to register for a company’s event. Their website should effectively communicate the value of their virtual event, contain the event schedule, showcase the speakers, including FAQs, and guide potential attendees to registration.
Registration tools are meant for data collection and are critical for any company’s event. They allow attendees to register for virtual events, submit preferences and personal information, and provide payment if required. Having an effective registration tool will enable attendees to register quickly and provide planners and marketers with the data they need to create a successful event. Thirdly, email marketing can drive demand for an event and increase registration by keeping attendees informed before an event and engaging attendees leading to the virtual event and feedback surveys. Using an email marketing tool that can help deliver branded, a personalized emails will help provide higher open rates and click-through metrics.
Online event guides and mobile event apps are also essential pieces of event technology for virtual events. This is because those tools work on mobile devices and web browsers and are the hub for attendees to gain all the necessary information about a virtual event. Through them, attendees can pick and choose which sessions they want to be a part of, and planners can gather data on session popularity and attendee engagement. The tools also connect attendees and provide messaging tools that allow them to network and foster connections virtually.
Especially when companies and planners cannot get reactions by expressions or verbal feedback from attendees at a physical event, event feedback is crucial. For this reason, companies should use event feedback tools to collect feedback using post-event surveys that they can use to gather insight into whether the event was a success.
Lastly, integration tools ensure vital registration and attendee data are shared between a company’s event technology system and their virtual event platform. It also enables the data obtained is shared with a company’s marketing automation and CRM systems. These tools help keep a company’s attendee data in one place, allowing them to jump on leads more quickly and analyze key insights like session attendance and engagement.
How to Run A Successful Virtual Event
Now that we have looked at want virtual events are, elements of a virtual event, and essential tools to run a successful virtual event, let us look at some tips to ensure a successful virtual event.
1) Choose events wisely
Virtual events can be highly adaptable. As the event host, you should begin by using data collected through the marketing automation tool you use and then create the ideal event plan for their target audience. An event plan can involve everything from hosting an online meeting to uploading a podcast. As mentioned in the previous section, companies need to make sure they have all of the tools they need to shape their business, including tools that will make it easy to host and upload the event to other owned media platforms other than the virtual event platform the company chooses.
By assessing prospect and attendee behavior, you can start brainstorming ideas. Consider pain points, hot topics, and consumer questions that could serve as a perfect springboard for a company’s content, and focus on the platforms that are generating the most interaction.
2) Differentiate your event
We know you want your event to be current. Be that as it may, this does not mean copying what others are doing. To be successful, you need to think about how you can differentiate yourself from your competitors. You can do this by leaning into your audience’s insights and looking at the best solution to the problem. It is also important to be bold and creative to ensure that you lead the pack. It is not enough to stream and assume that an event will be successful. As a brand, you need to convey exactly who you are and find a way to be professional and personal with those attending their event.
4) Choose your platform wisely
With so many software and platforms on the market, you have many choices to consider when figuring out where to host your virtual event. Before you decide which platform you want to use, you need to pay close attention to your users and the devices that they are most likely to use. Since not all platforms work well on mobile devices and some are more suitable for informal situations than corporate events, you need to make sure that your chosen platform meets your needs, including security, and data requirements.
5) Make attendees feel involved with a sociable atmosphere
Having the right content is only one part of having a successful virtual event. If you only present one-sided content, there is no real incentive for people to keep watching. For this reason, you need to find ways to keep people involved and engaged. You need to make sure that your presentation includes concise language, large fonts, and high colour contrast, ensuring that your information is presented in a clear and appealing format. You should also provide captions and visuals for audio and provide clear and concise descriptions where possible for visuals.
When it comes to creating opportunities for engagement, pretty much every online platform provides interactive features. Don’t let these features go to waste. Rather, to retain attention, you should ask attendees to participate in polls or quizzes, encourage live-tweeting, take requests and suggestions, and answer any questions asked.
6) Expect the worst
Much like physical events, virtual events can undergo issues, especially since they rely more on technology. So, before an event goes live, you need to test your internet connection and prepare backups of visuals and presentations, just in case a file does not work at the last minute.
You should also do a trial run before the actual event because the sooner you identify the problems, the sooner you can create solutions. Also, it is essential to remember that not all attendees are tech-savvy. This means that companies need to anticipate potential issues that people may run into. While you can’t prevent all these issues, you can make your attendees’ lives easier to preparing guides and FAQs to help them troubleshoot on the spot.
Examples of Successful Virtual Events
1) The NBA restart
The start of the 2019-20 NBA season may not check all the boxes of a virtual event, but it actually can be considered one. The season, which resumed on July 30 after a four-month hiatus during COVID-19, has been anything but ordinary. The NBA chose a different approach because fans could not join the league “bubbles” in Orlando to watch the games in person. The NBA uses modern technologies to help viewers to watch games. They project videos for teams, coaches, and anyone tuning in from around the world to see. The “Together” mode on Microsoft Teams “uses AI segmentation technology to put people together into a common context like a meeting room, coffee shop, or arena.” The NBA used this technology to build the virtual fan experience.
Additionally, the NBA made several adjustments to improve the at-home fan experience. Among these changes, hundreds of cameras were repositioned closer to the court to show off previously unseen camera angles. Additionally, microphones were strategically positioned around the court to catch sounds like sneaker squeaks and ball bounces. The brand also recruited on-site DJs and announcers to recreate the sounds that teams and audiences are used to and build a simulated experience of cheering. This helped fans digitally “cheer” for a team using team hashtags on the NBA App, NBA.com, and Twitter. To “capture the level of fan interaction around the world,” those “cheers” were then displayed on in-arena video boards through graphics and animations.
2) Salesforce Tour Sydney Reimagined
Due to COVID-19, Salesforce was one of the first companies to switch to virtual events for its World Tour event in early March. The company removed the need for participants to attend in person and fly to Sydney while still allowing them to benefit from the event content by making World Tour an online experience. The event proved successful, and Salesforce said the one-day event drew in 1.2 million video views across social media, in addition to the 80,000 live stream viewers.
The event was much more than a Livestream, with on-demand videos available afterward. It was also an immersive environment for the audience, one of the most critical aspects of a successful virtual event.
3) SBC Digital Summit
The virtual betting and gaming industry festival, held from April 27 to May 1, was designed to provide attendees with an immersive experience. That’s precisely what it did. The SBC Digital Summit used an innovative digital platform to give participants virtual event access to a full-on virtual event space, providing the many advantages of a physical conference and exhibition. Digital visitors “arrived” in the Lobby Area before being given access to different rooms in the virtual venue. The Exhibition Hall was one of these halls, and visitors were able to visit exhibits, meet with exhibitors, and view display items there. There was also the Conference Auditorium, where attendees could listen to panels and presentations from speakers, and the Networking Lounge, where they could communicate individually or in groups.
4) Tomorrowland Around the World – The Digital Festival
In July, the enormous Belgian music festival entered the movement of the virtual event, providing attendees with a musical experience like no other. Tomorrowland included “activities, webinars, lectures, games, and other immersive entertainment” in addition to performances by Katy Perry, Steve Aoki, David Guetta, and Martin Garrix. Artists performed on virtual stages in front of thousands of virtual fans on a virtual 3D island during the festival. Special effects, fireworks, laser displays, sound effects, and other elements were included as they would be at an actual music festival. Tomorrowland collaborated with Dog studio to create its breathtaking virtual platform, and Dogstudio’s CEO and creative director provided some insight into the process a few days before the festival began.
According to him, they collaborated with Tomorrowland’s in-house 3D, artistic, and production teams to create a compelling, interactive, user-friendly, yet high-end experience. He also stated that they made a web-based experience and challenged the limits of what can be achieved effectively in a web browser. Other than the obvious technological difficulties, their most challenging task was to ensure that festival attendees felt a sense of belonging to something bigger than their device and internet connection.
You shouldn’t give up on hosting that event you’ve been planning for months just because of the pandemic. Rather than cancel your in person event because you think it will be poorly attended, convert it into a virtual event which people can attend freely from all over the world. The aforementioned examples are proof that you don’t need a physical venue to host a well-attended event. As long as you keep the above tips in mind, you can still host a successful and enjoyable event online.
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